For Mr. Johnson, a leader who craves approval, the paradox is that the public seems to back a harsher approach. Almost half of people said they believed the Christmas rules were not strict enough, according to a recent poll by Ipsos MORI. About two in five said they were right and just 10 percent said they were too tough.
Those results might seem surprising, given Britain’s deep attachment to Christmas. The festivities sprawl over two days, with Dec. 26 also a national holiday, known as Boxing Day. Some date the extravagant celebration of Christmas to the Victorian era, when it started to symbolize some of the nation’s common values.
“It was seen to symbolize the British love of home and family, their respect for tradition and the past, and a shared way of life in a society divided by class and politics,” said Martin Johnes, a professor of history at the University of Swansea.
“During the Second World War,” he said, “some suggested it was important to celebrate Christmas because it summed up everything people were fighting for.”
Giles Fraser, the rector of St. Mary’s church in Newington, South London, agreed that Christmas plays “a central part in the cultural psyche” — so much so that he said he was not sure whether the politicians making decisions fully appreciated how central it was to people’s morale.
Mr. Fraser, who works in economically deprived parts of London, said the need for celebration was particularly acute this year after the deaths, illness and job losses of the pandemic. His own parish recently suffered a blow when its church hall collapsed after a suspected arson attack.
For Mr. Fraser, the pandemic has meant planning for compromises like moving carol singing outside the church. But canceling Christmas would be “an existential blow to peoples’ well-being in a way that perhaps might not be understood elsewhere,” he said. “That is why politicians are so reluctant to take it on.”